The Bully

There wasn’t any specific reason why I took a mental trip to the past, and yet there were a thousand reasons why. Usually I avoid thinking about any of the abuse I suffered, but sometimes thoughts just creep through like a spider moving in and out of a crack in the floorboards.

My ex-husband was a master at it. His bruises went deep to the soul but they left no marks on the surface. He worked the graveyard shift and I used to silently count down the hours until he would leave for work. I treasured my nights without him at home and I dreaded his nights off. After a while I used to dread any hour he was home when I or the kids were awake. I never knew when he was going to blow so I would run scenarios through my head. If he blows today, this person is off work and we can go there. Plan B. Plan C. Sometimes all the way to Plan F. The girls and I got so attuned to his body language that we knew he was going to blow before he did, and we could give ourselves a little lead time to get to a place of safety.

Once you learn to read that body language, you can’t turn it off unless you close your eyes. So without even thinking about it, you find yourself reading it in others who exhibit it. Perfect strangers even. Once I was grocery shopping and encountered a man who was oozing anger so silently that he was odiferous. Instantly I became ill and had to run outside to vomit in a garbage can. I so desperately wanted to go back and talk to his wife, to find out how I could help her break free. But I didn’t. I understood all too well that if she was in his presence, she could not be approached.

Several months ago I encountered another bully, an influential person who liked his ego to be stroked often. It bothered me to have a bully rise to the top and be in the brightest spotlight of all, caught on video nearly every day and appearing in my living room on the evening news. I watched in horror as he mocked a disabled reporter. Even more horrifying was watching others defend the bully, trying to tell me he wasn’t making a mockery of the disabled person. I watched the bully knowingly lie, escalate falsehoods and advance conspiracies, manipulate a mob, and incite violence. He called others names to their faces. He publicly falsely accused others of breaking the law. He was disrespectful to his wife in public, caught twisting her arm to cause pain. And she, like the woman in the grocery store, silently spoke just as loudly with her body language. Even my grown children could hear their body language. Sadly, many people could not hear it or would not.

And now it appears some people, some very smart and conniving people, played with that bully, manipulated that bully, to the point that now the bully is desperate and paranoid. On one hand, it’s a welcome sight to watch a bully get a taste of his own medicine. But on the other hand, there is no escaping the fear of what is to come when he blows.

Behind Anger Is Loss

My bestest friends in the whole wide world are too kind. They listened to me whine and complain this past weekend (again) about how I’m so frustrated and angry with not having any money. They let me carry on and on when they should have told me to shut my mouth and get a grip.

The problem is, I can’t get past my anger. I’m still mad that I lost my job in 2008 and that we lost all our savings in the market crash. I’m furious that it took me three years to find another job that didn’t come anywhere near the salary I needed. Okay, I just nudged myself in the ribs. I need to shut up about it.

But it’s hard to be quiet when it seems the whole world is angry along with me. We’re in the throes of a nasty presidential election and candidates are struggling to appear poised and composed. Their followers prod them with chants of rage and the main networks run those scenes 24/7 to boost ratings. Protestors are breaking out in fights at campaign rallies, and others are blaming the candidates for it all. I can’t remember a time in my life when so many people were so angry.

Today I had an Aha! moment. I’ll bet many of those angry protestors are people just like me—working in a lower job, making less than we need (if we’re lucky enough to have a job), frustrated by the fact that eight years post-recession we are no better off. We just want all the bad stuff to stop!

Sure we can point fingers at the current president and the president before him. If we really want to, we can go all the way back to when Ronald Reagan was president and blame him. Assigning blame isn’t going to change the situation. It might make us feel better, but the fact is we’re angry because our dreams were shattered or even worse, they never even had a chance to come alive.

Therein lies loss. And knowing that just makes me all the angrier. I despise loss. It’s right up there with cleaning toilets and picking up dog poop. I don’t want to deal with loss anymore. I just want to leave it there in a pile and walk away from it. Let someone else clean up the mess because I’ve had my fill. Just like Howard Beale I want to yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

I’ve been swimming upstream for more than eight years trying to find the root of a small tree that I can grab hold of and secure myself. I’m tired. The water’s cold. And it’s crowded. There’s no room to move about because so many of us are treading water. How are we ever going to lift ourselves up out of this damn stream?

Visiting with my friends this weekend I learned they’re in the stream with me, furiously swimming along, trying to make ends meet, and trying to find that root to grasp. But they’re dealing with it so much better than I am. If they’re angry, they aren’t showing it. If they’re depressed, they’re hiding it much better than I can. I know they’re tired too. But what is their secret? How are they dealing so well with their anger and loss? They look composed and pulled together. I feel like a hot mess beside them, flapping my mouth, spewing words without thinking.

“Good morning, Mr. Beale. They tell me you’re a madman.”

All Politics Aside…

In full disclosure, I used to be a public official. I served for 17 years in local government and then I thought I was good enough to run for the state legislature. Well, I was good enough but my opponent ran a smarter, nastier campaign and I lost by four percentage points. Having experienced all those elections probably has something to do with the fact that I am interested in the whole process of elections, especially elections for U.S. President. Or maybe I’m just an election junkie.

But I have to tell you, I’m absolutely fascinated by what is happening in our country right now. Think about it. Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump is a master marketer. A couple of weeks ago he gave a speech and told everyone the cell phone number of one of his opponents. That opponent was furious! And several days later, the opponent, seeking revenge, gave out Trump’s cell phone number. But Trump had planned on that all along. When people called Trump’s number, they were greeted with a campaign message and directed to Trump’s website. And, in the process, Trump’s cell phone recorded every single one of those caller’s phone numbers. What an interesting way to build an election database!

Candidates for election are held tight by all kinds of rules, and one of them has to do with “advertising”. If you appear on a TV or radio show, then that show has to offer “equal” air time to your opponent. With 17 GOP candidates right now, it’s very challenging for TV and radio shows to offer up equality to all the candidates. But if a candidate makes “legitimate” news, well, then, that falls under the category of covering the news, not advertising. And every time Trump appears in the news, he’s getting the best of free advertising. Given our country’s extreme dislike for established politicians right now, Trump is loving every minute of it. He doesn’t care if it’s positive or negative news. He just cares that his name is being spoken (or heard) in households every day.

Another rule candidates have to deal with has to do with fundraising. The rules are many and complicated. However, if a candidate is rich and can finance his own campaign without having to raise enormous amounts of money—which Trump is—then that candidate can pretty much do whatever he wants. He doesn’t have to cater to special interest groups. He doesn’t have to make any pledges or promises. He can do whatever he wants. And anyone familiar with Trump knows that’s the way he likes it.

Honestly, I think Trump is having a blast and laughing every minute. Will he be the GOP nominee? Probably not. But, there is a slight chance that he could still win the election. As I wrote above, the majority of voters are totally fed up with establishment politicians. They could very easily vote for Trump. Stranger things have happened. If you doubt me, check out the Minnesota 1998 election for governor when a pro-wrestling lunatic was just as shocked as everyone else when he was declared the winner. Jesse Ventura ran as a reform party candidate and he won! Trump could do the same thing as an independent party candidate. Just saying…

Crossing over to the Democrats, Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of 26,000 people this week in Washington State. Hillary Clinton barely gathered a crowd of 6,000 on her East Coast home turf. At this time in 2008, someone else from the non-establishment ranks was drawing big crowds—then-candidate Obama. And just like Trump (and Obama in 2008), people are drawn to Sanders because he’s not an established politician. People are clamoring for change.

Speaking of change, I think this election cycle is going to bring about a lot of changes once it’s all said and done. I won’t be at all surprised in January 2017 when Congress takes up a bill dealing with election reform. With Trump self-financing his campaign, both parties will be eager to establish some firm rules about how much money a candidate can spend. And once election financing is on the table, you can bet on a Pandora’s box being opened. PACs and Super PACs will have to reach deep into their bank reserves to lobby for the status quo since all their money will have been spent on the election. And I won’t be surprised if people demand rules requiring term limits to do away with established politicians once and for all.

Just think, we have another 15 months of this before we head to the polls. Sit back and relax. Toss aside your hatred of the other party. Stop listening to the rhetoric and start thinking like a marketing manager. Consider this all a learning moment. How would you run a campaign?

What exactly does it mean?

Black lives matter. That phrase has been bothering me for some time. I try very hard not to see a person’s color or gender or race or sexuality. I can’t imagine what some people would do if I stood in a pack of protesters holding up a sign that said White Lives Matter! It’s not about us versus them. It’s about all of us. It’s about being treated with respect and being respectful of others. ALL LIVES MATTER!

One day last week I’d had my fill. I had heard on the news that high school students in Minneapolis walked out of classes in protest/support of what was happening in Baltimore. To me, those kids were just looking for an excuse to leave school on a rare beautiful Minnesota spring day. I expressed my frustration on Facebook and quickly a friend pushed back. She politely suggested that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Sometimes I don’t, and I have no problem with someone helping me to understand. My friend quoted some statistics from a Washington Post article that certainly helped me to understand the depth of frustration some people are feeling in Baltimore. But it didn’t change my feelings at all.

I believe most of the Baltimore protesters are people feeling hopeless about their lives for many reasons and the Post article backs that up. But what I cannot understand, and I’m reading/hearing similar thoughts from many others across our country, is why destroy the very town you live in just because you feel hopeless? Why resort to violence at all?

Today I saw my friend shared someone else’s post on Facebook, suggesting that some of us are saying, “Black lives matter, but….”

To my way of thinking, those protesters broke laws and should be disciplined accordingly. I don’t care one bit about the color of skin those protesters have. Anyone who sets fire to a building is an arsonist, and that is against the law. Anyone who steals from a store is a shoplifter, and that is against the law. And, for the record, I believe every police officer is held to a higher standard and must obey the laws too. No one is above the law. No one.

My friend wanted to argue that residents of Baltimore have it bad. I won’t argue against that fact. But what frustrates and irritates me is that so many of the protesters think the rest of us have it easy and that we should be more compassionate and understanding of their emotions, wants, needs. I’m sorry, but I can’t justify rioting, looting, setting fire to buildings for any reason. And I just have to ask, did they really believe doing those things was going to make their lives better?

For the record, I don’t have it easy. I haven’t for many years. But because I have a job, have a house, have a car, people assume I have an easy life. I worked very hard for the things I have and I know that a major illness or another job loss would take away all that I have. Many days I fight off despair, hopelessness, depression. I am not alone. Those protesters are not alone. I don’t know a single person in my life circles who has it easy. We are all struggling. And so, I believe we ALL matter.

The really sad part about what’s happening in Baltimore now is that it reminds many of us of what happened in Detroit in 1967. Research history (or read this article in today’s StarTribune ). The 1967 Detroit riots incited reactions across the country, just like the protesting in Ferguson and now Baltimore. In the Detroit riots, many people died, thousands were arrested, and more than 2,000 buildings were burned to the ground. It took years for the area to recover, and some people believe Detroit still hasn’t recovered. I’m wondering about Baltimore now. How long will tourists stay away? How long will businesses planning conventions go to other cities? Given all the bad statistics in the Post article, I have to wonder if Baltimore will ever recover. Is it really true that we haven’t learned anything in nearly 50 years? Or, even worse, did we, as a people, think we knew more than we really do? Did we think we had learned and took some action but now it turns out it’s not enough action, and we’re right back at square one?

I don’t have the answers. But I do know the answer isn’t in protesting or robbing or burning down a store. Instead we need to talk to our elected leaders and candidates running for office. We need to use words, not violence, to let people know we are hurting and we need change. And then we need to work together to make that change. We cannot sit back on our laurels and expect change to miraculously happen. It’s going to be hard work. And it’s going to be filled with frustration and despair. But it’s work that must be done. If we keep dividing ourselves, us versus them, black versus white, we’re only going to perpetuate violence and despair and powerlessness. We’ll just keep reliving 1967 again and again until we destroy our very selves.

November Thanks #11 | 3 Gifts of Remembrance

A thirty-day exercise in pausing, reflecting, appreciating, and giving thanks for simple things.

Yes, it’s fitting to talk of remembrance on November 11. The year was 1918, and the end of “the war to end all wars” was officially declared at “the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” No one ought ever forget the horrors, sacrifices, and deaths, everyone was told at the time. Sadly, some forgot much sooner than anyone expected when World War II erupted in 1937.

While the United States calls this day Veteran’s Day, some nations call it Poppy Day, some call it Armistice Day. No matter the wording, the sentiment is the same over all the world: Do not forget. Always remember. More than 16 million died, more than 20 million wounded, soldiers and civilians alike, in the four-year war. Thirty-thousand died in a single day.

Leaders at the time believed the fight would be swift and strategies would be successful. They all learned war is unpredictable. Thirty countries were involved. More than 25,000 miles of trenches were dug, to protect soldiers on all sides. It was the first time tanks, planes, and naval aircraft carriers were used in war. Explosions in France were heard in London.

On Christmas Eve 1914, soldiers fighting on opposite sides put down their guns and sang carols to each other across the trenches. The next day, some even exchanged greetings and food items and cigarettes. It was the only such Christmas truce throughout the war.

The three things that easily turn my thoughts to this war … red poppies …“trench warfare”… and “Christmas Truce.” Whether these three things are gifts of remembrance can be debated. But for me, they always give me pause and I remember.

We ought not to forget.

Parenting about Elections

Am I better off than I was four years ago?

When I first became an elected official in 1990, only two of my four daughters were born. Those two were precocious and much, much wiser than their ages of two and four. A few years later I added another daughter, and then a fourth. They all grew up with a first-hand knowledge of how government “happens.” Suffice it to say, because of my public service experience, my daughters have a better than average knowledge of elections. Every three years I was up for re-election for my local office. I ended up serving a total of 17 years before I moved out of my district in 2006. The girls were involved quite a bit in each of those local elections. But in 2002, they were heavily involved when I ran for the office of state legislator. All four of my daughters participated in many campaign events, including at least one parade every weekend from early May to late September. They understand the importance of photo shoots and public appearances and fundraisers. They also understand the definition of conviction.

So every time an important election comes around, inevitably discussions turn to politics in our house. Even so, I was quite surprised when Emily called me more than a week ago to talk about the upcoming presidential election. You see, Emily doesn’t usually call me unless she needs money or needs something else or wants to tell me what a horrible Mother I am. But this call was only about the election. She had an idea of who she wants to vote for and she said she needed to bounce her ideas off of someone she trusts to give her a straight answer. I nearly fell out of my chair. We had a great discussion. “Your future depends on the outcome of this election,” I told her. “You think I don’t realize that?!” she nearly yelled at me. She said many of her friends have been repeating one-liners and zingers, but when she presses them to back up their words those same kids don’t have any opinions or facts. Emily was pretty frustrated about that. And I smiled. Of course, it helped that this was a phone conversation and she couldn’t see my facial expressions.

Then over the weekend, I checked in with Kate to see how she and her family are doing. They’re fighting colds, but doing well. Of course I had to ask The Question. “Yes, I’m voting. I’ve done my research and I know who I’m voting for. But you’re not going to like it.” She’s voting for a third-party candidate. She’s right, I don’t like it. But I respect the fact that she took the time to learn where the candidates stand on the issues most important to her. She’s making an educated vote. I can’t ask for anything more.

Then last night, Brianna was home for dinner. My husband and I were talking about tonight’s debate, which led me to ask Brianna if she was planning to vote. “Hell, no,” she was quick to respond. “Why not?” I asked. “This is your first time old enough to vote. I’ll go with you. I’ll show you how it’s done.” Still she refused. “It’s critical to your future,” I pleaded. She wasn’t accepting any of it. She politely told me, “I don’t know who to vote for and I don’t want to go vote for a candidate just because you or someone else tells me to.” I wanted to hug her and scold her at the same time. But she didn’t give me a chance. She got up and headed to her room. Those of you with teenagers are well aware that sometimes parents have such a short timeframe to discuss things with our kids before they lose patience with us or their attention goes to something else. Even though I didn’t think this discussion was confrontational, Brianna did. I’ll have to revisit the discussion with her again. There’s time.

As Brianna headed up to her room, it dawned on me that I haven’t yet had “the talk” with Rose. Newly married (with a name change) and a change of address will create some challenges for her. Hopefully she’ll consider her civic duty too important to be side railed by those things.

So back to my question. Am I better off than I was four years ago?

When I came into this second marriage in 2006, I was holding my own financially. I wasn’t well off by any means, but I wasn’t going in the red very often when it came time to pay the bills. My husband had just finished up a very successful career and had amassed some wealth, but it had been evenly divided when his divorce was finally settled just a few months after we started dating. When we blended our families and our ledgers, we were not on even ground financially, but we weren’t all that far off either. About that same time I was promoted with a large raise and life was good.

And then the other shoe dropped. In July 2008, I lost my high-paying job. I realized very quickly that the house we purchased was more than we could afford, but the housing market was bursting and we were trapped. We figured we could hold on until I found another job. Two months later, we lost nearly 60 percent of our investments in The Crash. By November 2008, I was deeply depressed and grabbing on to “hope and change” like the majority of my fellow Americans.

It took me thirty-four months to be offered a permanent job, at half the wage I had previously earned. I accepted it without even having to think it over for a millisecond. I was thrilled to have medical insurance again and a steady income, albeit so much smaller than our needs. There is a value to steady income that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

I’ve been in my job about 17 months now. Today we are still struggling simply because I’m earning so much less than I was in early 2008. We’ve managed to scrimp and save and pay off some of our debt, but we have a long way to go still. I picked up a second job to help, but sometimes I wonder if the stress it creates causes more damage than the little bit of extra money. We are still in our expensive home, only because the market fell and we have no hope of selling it for what we owe on it.

My husband gave up looking for a job a couple of years ago. Past the “normal” retirement age, he says there is no one who will hire him with so many younger guys searching for jobs. He speaks truth. About six months ago he decided to start a business, but it’s taking a very long time to heat up. He struggles with motivation and drive, two essential elements to a start-up.

The way I see it, the U.S. got hit with a disastrous turn of events beginning in August 2008. Unlike anything we’d experienced in our lifetimes, experts struggled with finding a way out of the dark hole we were in. The first year of Obama’s presidency was spent trying to figure out how bad it was and what our options were. He put a few things in place and tried to do more, but he was stopped by partisan fighting. The divided aisles in Congress haven’t been this wide in decades. Senator McCain could not have done more had he been elected. The mentality in D.C. beginning in 2009 was to not compromise. Period. In 2010, people were dissatisfied with Congress and sent a message with their votes. Unfortunately, Congress had ear plugs in and they were all listening to their own brand of music. They will go down as the most lame Congress in recent history.

Slowly, as molasses flows in January, we are coming out of the dark mess of 2008. We all knew it was going to take time. Did we like it? Hell, no. We’re all frustrated and sick and tired of being short on cash and overloaded with bills. We are so over this. But we need to remember, the mess that was created in 2008 was unprecedented. And recovering from that is going to take many more years. As much as I want to believe we’ll be back to the good days in 2013, I know that’s not realistic—no matter who wins on November 6. This is a mess!! And it’s going to take time.

So take a breath, and think it through. Do what my daughters have done. Sit down and write a list of the values and principles that are critical to your beliefs. Then do your research and find out which candidate supports, or most closely aligns with, your positions. Don’t listen to the polls. And for Heaven’s sake, don’t listen to the 30-second sound bites on the evening news. Listen to your own self. Your future depends on it.

Barrack or Mitt — Will You Come for Dinner?

Before you jump to assumptions, please be aware this is NOT a political rant. This is not about one political party being better (or worse) than another. This is not a campaign ad. It is merely some observations. And an invitation to dinner.

FULL DISCLOSURE: From 1990–2006, I served 17 years as an elected local government official in a rural area of about 4,000 residents. For more than half of those years, I held the highest office possible in that form of government.

The other day, I was surfing home pages of different news organizations and I came across a photo of Mrs. Romney. As I write this, I cannot recall what the event was, or where, other than it was outside and there was lots of sunshine. I cannot tell you if there were other people standing behind Mrs. Romney. She was facing the photographer, but her eyes were focused on someone else. And she had an absolutely gorgeous smile that went all the way to her eyes. Can I tell you the color of her eyes? No. I faintly recall she had on a rose-hued lipstick. Beyond that, I cannot provide many details. But that smile was unforgettable. And it has hung in my thoughts for several days now.

Perhaps I was attracted to her smile like a moth to light for the simple reason that I have spent three afternoons of the last month in my dentist’s chair having assorted dental work done. Mind you, my smile isn’t model gorgeous but it is an attractive and warm smile. People have commented on it all my life. But no one has ever told me it was gorgeous. Mrs. Romney’s smile was gorgeous. Now maybe she inherited incredible “tooth” genes, but my guess is rather that for all of her life she had access to good dental care.

And any time I see a photo of Mrs. Obama, just like most women I am envious of her muscle tone and her fashion style. Mrs. Obama has often said she likes to purchase clothes from J. Crew, as if telling all of us that J. Crew is affordable. I looked once. It’s not in my budget, even if I am part of the “middle class.” And having good muscle tone requires effort and self-discipline, not to mention energy and time. On my best days I can only come up with one or two of those four things.

President Obama was on the David Letterman show recently and Letterman commented on how wonderful the President looked—indicating a fit and trim body. He did look fine indeed! It gave me pause to look at President Obama’s shiny leather loafers, dark (probably Gold Toe) socks, and elegant suit. Most people “clean up well” in those kinds of trappings. Most people don’t have access to a kitchen full of award-winning cooks, a personal trainer and staff who second as teammates for a game of pick-up ball, or an assortment of other aides. Okay, President Obama has one of (if not THE) toughest jobs I can think of. But the fact remains, he has access to things most people can only dream about.

And as hard as I try, I cannot lose the image from my brain of Mr. Romney piloting his overly large speed boat with a hull full of grandkids. It was clear from his posture and his expression that he felt very much at ease in the pilot’s seat and his designer-label clothes.

Headlines have been screaming for months about Congress’s record-low approval ratings. And lately it seems there’s a minimum of three polls each week giving us Obama’s and Romney’s approval/disapproval ratings, more often than not in less than stellar territory. Americans clearly feel their leaders are out of touch. Sure, we listened to Mrs. Romney talk fondly of their first “small” apartment and Mrs. Obama’s sweet story about an end table pulled out of a dumpster. But the fact remains those memories are from many, many years ago. During this summer’s political conventions we didn’t hear a single elected official or candidate for higher office discuss the difficulty of choosing between spending money on gas to get to a job or using that money to buy milk and meat and fresh vegetables for the week. We didn’t hear any of those speakers talk about waking up at three in the morning from nightmares about a health scare, knowing there isn’t any medical insurance. And for months, we haven’t heard any such talk from a single member of congress. Remember four years ago? All we heard every time we turned on the TV or the radio was talk about choosing to buy medicine or food. I haven’t heard that slogan in any campaign ads recently.

Local government officials—county board, city council, township—are in the trenches with us and are much more in tune with how most of us feel on a given day. Local government officials (usually) don’t have a staff that screens calls 24/7, or an on-site chef, or a personal driver. Locally elected officials sit alongside us at church, pump gas at the next pump over, buy groceries at the same store. They often greet us by name and ask about our sick child or if we’ve had any job prospects. They’re on the ground running with us. They’re in the trenches fighting with us.

And so as I jot down these musings, I’m pondering ways to create communication channels from main streets in America to two official buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. How can we eliminate the middle layers of staff and assorted others who essentially serve as filters to keep the “riff raff” from bothering these officials? How can we get around those people who serve only to guard a Congressman’s time? How can an average American—not an Olympic athlete, not a war hero, not a civilian hero—be invited to have a freshly brewed honey beer at the White House?

I am so concerned that our voices are not being heard. I am so worried that all the filters put in place to protect and triage priorities have instead silenced the messages from the trenches. We need reinforcements and assistance! We don’t need partisan politics nor billions upon billions of dollars being spent on campaign ads.

If by any chance the Obamas or the Romneys (or any Congressional leaders for that matter) are drawn to these silly musings of mine, please call and tell me when you’re coming for dinner. My husband and I will make you the best Italian spaghetti you’ve had in a long time. And we can toast to better times with some homemade lemoncello. And we will ask for nothing in return except for a couple of hours of your time to listen to the messages from the trenches.